Prosecutors investigating war crimes will try from Tuesday to convince the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to bring to justice a former Central African militia leader they accuse of attacks against Muslim civilians.
Maxime Mokom, 44, was the leader of the anti-balaka, self-proclaimed self-defense militias made up mostly of Christian and animist fighters created in 2013 in reaction to the capture of Bangui by the Séléka, a coalition of armed groups mainly made up of Muslims opposed to former President François Bozizé.
He faces 20 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed in 2013 and 2014, including attacks on civilians, murder, rape, looting and attacks on mosques.
Prosecutors will now seek, in a key three-day hearing at the ICC, which sits in The Hague, to convince judges that the evidence is strong enough to send Mr Mokom to the dock. Judges will then decide whether Mr. Mokom should stand trial.
Prosecutors said that Mr. Mokom, national coordinator of the "anti-Balaka" according to them, had provided "logistical support to military operations (...) in particular by providing funds, weapons, medicine and ammunition".
Mr. Mokom, according to prosecutors, led the planning and coordination of attacks against the capital Bangui and the city of Bossangoa (northwest) at the end of 2013. The attacks forced thousands of Muslim civilians to flee the capital and cross the border into neighbouring Cameroon and Chad.
"Many walked for weeks ... while being chased," prosecutors said. “Others were moved to enclaves, where they were then confined,” they added.
"Widespread and systematic" attacks on Muslim civilians by anti-balaka militias continued even after Seleka forces withdrew from Bangui until at least December 2014, they claimed. "The message to the Muslim population was clear: leave CAR or die," prosecutors said.
The violence in the Central African Republic committed by the Séléka and the anti-balaka - meaning "anti-machete" - would have left thousands dead and more than a hundred thousand displaced, according to the ICC. Last year, Chadian authorities handed Mr Mokom over to the ICC, which had issued an arrest warrant for him in 2018.
Two former anti-balaka warlords, Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona and Alfred Yekatom, are already on trial by the ICC. Last year, Seleka commander Mahamat Said Abdel Kani denied charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity before the court, created in 2002 to try the world's worst crimes.